Beyond the Box: Technology grantmaking in Canada

The Internet and other networked technologies have become central to the ways Canadian voluntary organizations work with each other and work for the communities they serve. Of course, these new ways of working have lead to both changing funding needs in the voluntary sector and new challenges for Canadian grantmakers. The Changing Technology Funding Practices Project is working with grantmakers to promote information sharing and to develop tools that respond to these challenges.

Where we are

  • Most Canadian voluntary organizations now have access to technology basics – a computer, Internet access, support. However, many organizations still have a hard time finding money to pay for these basic tools and confusion remains about whether and how grantmakers should cover these costs.
  • Canadian grantmakers understand that technology has become an important component of any successful voluntary organization. However, they often feel that they lack the expertise or information necessary to evaluate technology projects. Grantmakers want support from peers or experts to review the specifics of technology-oriented projects.
  • While some organizations have used technology to enhance their ability to pursue their mission, most have not moved beyond basic e-mail, word processing and web sites. A more strategic, mission-focused approach – delivering services online, creating virtual collaborations, mobilizing volunteers with e-mail – is necessary if we want to see the real social benefits of technology.

Where we need to go

  • Computers, Internet access and support need to be broadly accepted as voluntary sector “must haves.” They provide both essential communications capacity and the ability to realize efficiencies that can free up resources for “high touch” services. Grantmakers should ensure that organizations have basic technology capacity in place before making other investment in an organization, and grantmakers should help organizations get this capacity if does not yet exist.
  • The thinking about the technology in the voluntary sector needs to shift from “boxes, cables and software” to strategic, mission-driven uses of the Internet and other networked tools. Inspired by those organizations who are leading the charge in this direction, voluntary sector leaders and grantmakers alike need to ask the question “where does technology fit in?” when planning new strategic initiatives.
  • Collectively, we need to raise the capacity and comfort level of grantmakers to assess projects that have a technology component. This means starting a conversation among grantmakers about technology issues as well as developing tools for grantmakers that help with everything from initial project reviews to final assessments of the impact of technology investments.
  • We need to understand that the power of technology lies primarily in networking people. Online collaboration, encouraging organizations to work together across a community, our country and the world, needs to be more broadly understood and supported.

A common, sectoral understanding of concepts like “technology planning” and “strategic applications” must be achieved for the voluntary sector to push forward social goals using existing and emerging information technology.